Buddhism in the far east.

China is historically a Buddhist nation with thousands of temples, some dating back more than 1700 years. Buddhism is a practice in which the follower observes a series of teachings of Buddha, not a God but a man who lived. Buddhists do not believe in a divine God or Supreme Being, although it has been said that as Buddhism is a practice you can be a follower of Christ or God (or whoever) and still be a Buddhist . I like this about Buddhism, the openness and acceptance of all religions and inclusion of humanity and its right to choose. Globally, there are more than 480 million followers, predominantly in Asia.  Buddhist centres, principals and congregations can be found all over the world, making Buddhism the fourth largest religion in the world, after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism .

Check out Core of Buddhism from religioustolerance.org. This is one of my favourite references of Buddhism, of course there are so many out there, but this one is so simple. (The full link is below.)

  1. Sila: Virtue, good conduct, morality. This is based on two fundamental principles:
  •   The principle of equality: that all living entities are equal.
  •   The principle of reciprocity: This is the Golden Rule in Christianity – to do unto  others as you would wish them to do unto  you. It is found in all major religions.
  1. Samadhi: Concentration, meditation, mental development. Developing one’s mind is the path to wisdom which in turn leads to personal freedom. Mental development also strengthens and controls our mind; this helps us maintain good conduct.
  2. Prajna: Discernment, insight, wisdom, enlightenment. This is the real heart of Buddhism. Wisdom will emerge if your mind is pure and calm.

Source – http://www.religioustolerance.org/buddhism1.htm

Here in China I am confused with the terminology used by the Chinese people I meet. They come in droves to the temples to pay their respects and wish for good luck. Is that not the same as honouring God, and praying for blessings? The word luck and wish are used a lot in my conversations with the locals. I spoke to a lady in the Hanshan temple in Suzhou and asked if the people who were praying were all Buddhists. Her reply surprised me, “Probably not. They are just here for good luck because it is the New Year.” Interesting. So, it begs the question – who is granting the good luck? Or who are they asking?

LUCK – a force that brings good fortune or adversity

BLESSING – a beneficial thing for which one is grateful

WISH – a desire or hope for something to happen

PRAYER – an earnest hope or wish



I have visited 17 temples in China: in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Harbin, Suzhou and Beijing. The theme is the same. A symbolic brazier is located in the courtyard, with a bell tower and drum tower normally opposite each other. Large gorgeous gold Buddhas are housed in a series of halls throughout the often-expansive grounds and incense is everywhere you turn. People come and kneel before the statues and three seems to be the magic number. Three bows of the head, three sticks of incense, and three times raising your hands in prayer. I got chatting with a monk at the magnificent Lin Ying temple in Hangzhou. Through his Mandarin, my Aussie English and Google translate,   we discussed the crowded forecourt and masses of people pouring in and out of the temple walls in a constant stream, in the half hour we sat and chatted. His view as well, is that not everyone is a Buddhist. This illusion of luck if you attend the temple at New Year and pay your respects, and then your year will be filled with happiness (blessings?). He had been a monk for 15 years and was committed to his faith, but reminded me that the teachings of Buddha do not include the reverence of a Supreme Being. I asked again, who is supplying the luck? He smiled and said that our actions supply our own luck . If you act with kindness and goodwill, then that is what you will receive in return. So is Buddhism ‘The Secret’?

I’m left intrigued to this faith and its followers. I will journey to Tibet, Burma, Thailand and Japan to further explore this ancient tradition. As far as China is concerned, religion may be restricted but Buddhism is everywhere you turn; there are street sellers offering Buddhas and incense on every corner. There is a multitude of temples in their grandeur on offer in every town and a history dating back centuries.

Peace to all creatures – what could possibly be wrong with that?

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Shanghai – Where are the Faithful?

I’ve arrived. It was a rather chilly reception when I landed in China. With two degrees flashing on my watch I set off to the AirBnB, with my backpack strapped on. Another warm welcome greeted me and a delicious dinner was prepared by my hosts, Sophia and Haoran. I was so curious about the government restrictions, my hosts happily explained their view on religion in China over dinner. This couple of self-confessed ‘culturally Buddhists’ explained that religion is possible in Shanghai and their mother dutifully attended temple regularly. It’s no problem to attend church, they said. Okay, I thought, this will be easy.

So I set off to explore. I had two agendas in Shanghai. Operation Brazilian Visa (a whole separate post needed for that), and find people of faith in Shanghai, without getting into trouble. My trip was very loosely planned; mostly just to fly by the seat of my pants was the plan. Which was actually how I ended up in Shanghai. My sister-in-law’s Finnish cousin, Emma , who I only met on Christmas Day, is studying there so she offered a bed in her university dorms. Why not?

So using Sanda University Halls of Residence as a base, and after getting past the very staunch and uncooperative guard that is, I explored that massive metropolis, and in my Googling I discovered an InterNations event. It was there I met Flora. Flora was a gorgeous Chinese woman who had lived in the US for many years. We shared our stories and she told me how she had come to know Jesus through her friends in the US and that through a difficult time in her life she decided to see what all the fuss was about. She candidly relayed the intimate details of her life’s trials and nonchalantly mentioned how kind church people were. A notion I’m pleased to agree with, reminding me of a comment made by one of my mates in Bali who I took to a church event once. “Christians. Always so bloody nice aren’t they.” (Yes Matt, they are!). What was interesting about Flora was that she was desperate to find a church but had been deterred by all the regulations stating as a Chinese passport holder she could not attend. What? So rightfully or not I invited her to the church I had attended earlier in the week. She went and has found home there, one email is all it took. I wondered how long she had been searching for a church family?

I explored temples and churches mainly in Shanghai and attended an incredible ‘women in faith’ fellowship group. Women from all over the world met to discuss God and share their faith. I was welcomed with open arms and the host Carolina from Costa Rica sparked my interest in the turtle program there. (I might just do that, it’s been nagging on my heart for over a decade). About 20 women huddled in and we were led by a wonderful woman whose testimony was inspiring and of course there was cake. I questioned the restrictions on Chinese participation and one lady said, “I heard that if the government came you better have a foreign passport, but I don’t ask questions and there are definitely Chinese locals in the congregation.” Confusing. The women prayed for my journey and gave me encouragement and wisdom. I was so happy to have met these ladies and will be sure to drop in on some more fellowship groups.

Lastly was Moses, now he never said he was faithful and he may not be. But, his name was why I picked his AirBnB for New Year. What I liked about Moses was his open attitude, we discussed religion and he was in the conservative camp. Maybe if you want to pray you can but it’s not encouraged. He did mention with the beauty of VPN in China now the access to ‘real’ information is easier. I asked him how he got his name and he said in English class in high school they chose English names. He had heard the story of Exodus and thought, “I want to be a leader and with a name like Moses maybe I will be.” A simple idea and maybe it just made sense to a 14 year old boy. Or maybe it is like the story of Abraham – Genesis 17:5. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

Moses certainly had the presence of a leader in my eyes.
I’m yet to discuss the ins and outs of Buddhism with a monk but I’m heading to a town with a famous temple so that might be my chance.

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim